Poetry's Mysterious Ways

What is Poetry?


Poetry has been around for centuries. A lot of questions come to mind with poetry, especially to those who don't write poetry. Even people like myself who actively write poetry find ourselves questioning what poetry is and what it's purpose is. There's a huge interest in how it's made, where the ideas come from, and the hidden tricks beneath each technique used, if there is any. Many are frustrated, as the response is always the same: I don't know. 

There are many ways for words to come alive from the page. Some can do it by themselves, but some need a little hand, whether it's through music, imagery, or the spoken word. This especially applies to poetry. If somebody asked me what poetry was, I would find it hard to explain. I've written and published over 100 poems, I should know poetry like the back of my hand. 

The truth is that poetry is something that is very hard to define. There are so many rules and so many types of poems, even writing this article, I am baffled at where to begin. As daft as it sounds, I believe that like the air, poetry is everywhere; inhaled and exhaled. The funky tunes pumping on the radio, their lyrics, can be considered poetry. The shopping list can be poetry. A jumble of words. A mixture of words and human emotion. Everybody's opinions on poems will be different. 

What fascinates me about poetry the most is its lack of limits and packed up discipline. A poem can be one line, two lines, or even 30 lines or more. There is lots of poetry out there, more than I can say. 

Let's take a look at some definitions of poetry, as portrayed by other sources. Here is Wikipedia's definition. 

Poetry (the term derives from a variant of the Greek term, poiesis, "making") is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.

When typing 'poetry' into Google, three suggestions from the Oxford dictionary comes up. 

Literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.

This seems to be a more simplified version of the Wikipedia description, but it makes the same point. 

A quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems

This is a really attractive and elegant way to describe poetry. There is beauty in poetry and there is an intense emotion that strikes the characteristic nature of poems as well. I think this is one of my favourite definitions of poetry, as it doesn't confine to any rules, which links to the next definition. 

Something regarded as comparable to poetry in its beauty.

Whilst this does not define poetry, it describes poetry being used as a compliment. It means that the art of poetry is immortal as it's proven to be in so many years. Even with all these definitions, the process of making poems remains a mystery. One needs imagination and something to record the words. 

Everybody's ideas of poetry are different. Some people feel that poetry has to rhyme like the nursery lines sketched into our childhood. Poetry can tell a story. It can move the reader. It can bring characters to life. It can strike emotions in you for characters and things that don't exist. And then make you care more about the things that do. 

Then again, so does prose and non-fiction. 

Each poem is unique. If you tell me to write a poem, then I will do it. How long it will take will depend on a lot of factors. What sort of poem is it? Does it have to rhyme? If there is an assignment brief, what does the brief want? How motivated am I? Have I got the time? What are my surroundings like? 

I learned this from a forum that bad writing is like a fart, and if you force it; then it's probably crap. And after having over a hundred poems published, I can say that this is true. Sometimes it can take me a few days to finish a poem, a few seconds, a few hours. I wouldn't be surprised if one poem takes me years to finish. 

One of my favourite forms of poems are haikus. I find the process of creating them really relaxing. I remember when I wrote my first haikus in a creative writing class where we all looked at pictures and generated words from them and used those words as a template to generate haikus. 

I found this process helpful in making my poems. When I decided that I was going to write a poetry book about drinks, I listed drinks that I liked and decided to focus on teas and coffees. I ended up trying new drinks and researching on different teas and coffees just for the purpose of getting that motivation and ideas needed to craft that poem. 

In many books about the writing craft, I have read, I've noticed a lot of them talk about their own personal life and quotes that have affected them in one way or another. Most of it isn't just on the writing itself, it highlights how their personal life had changed their work. One book I read that was about writing, had absolutely nothing to do with writing, and I can't remember its name. 

So if poetry was a person, this is what I think it would say to us, "I'm mysterious: deal with it." 

Chloe Gilholy
Chloe Gilholy

Chloe Gilholy is a care assistant from Oxfordshire with a passion for writing, travelling and gaming. Author of Drinking Poetry. 

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Poetry's Mysterious Ways